Stranded Sei whale may have starved to death
15th March 2003
CAROLINA BEACH - A rare sei whale was found dead along an undeveloped stretch of beach after apparently starving to death, researchers said.
The 36-foot whale had a thick fishing line lodged in its mouth, and the animal's skin had started to grow around fishing gear that had gouged its head.
Ann Pabst, a marine mammal biologist at UNC-Wilmington, pointed to the whale's emaciated mid-section while declaring that it would have weighed about 36 tons if it had been healthy.
"With it carrying this line, it wasn't able to feed like it should have been doing," she said.
Japanese whale hunters stopped catching sei whales in 1974, when they were deemed nearly extinct. Japan began targeting sei again in 2001, estimating that there were then 100,000 worldwide, enough to allow for limited hunts for research. The animals usually frequent the deepest ocean waters.
"We don't know a lot about these whales because we rarely see them," Pabst said.
The Smithsonian has requested tissue samples and the whale's skull because of the rarity of the find.
The carcass was discovered early Thursday morning. A few hours later, eight people from UNCW were working around the carcass. Carolina Beach crews moved the carcass away from the encroaching tide using a backhoe.
Bill McLellan, head of the state's Marine Mammal Stranding Network based at UNCW, measured the whale's body, flippers and mouth. He cut back a thick layer of blubber with a knife, and the backhoe pulled back the skin in one large chunk, unveiling the muscles underneath.
Researchers took samples of the whale's blubber, muscle, tissue and organs. The samples will eventually be distributed to research labs around the world.